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Intro­duction to fees to artists for exhibiting in public with examples indicating that sustaining such schemes is dependent on widespread and continued accep­tance of the principle and rigorous self-regulation within the sector, and on gaining suitable levels of public subsidy to the visual arts. Three financing options are considered in support of equanimity. An afterword considers whether in a political climate of reduced subsidy to the public sector, some new strategies are needed to finance the arts and artists’ contributions.


This text summarises three contem­porary examples of schemes within Europe intended to improve the pay and terms for artists when showing in publicly-funded venues, indicating what consid­er­a­tions underpin the advocacy on artists’ pay and outlining a prior UK scheme as a comparator, suggesting reasons for its cessation. Sustaining each example of practice is dependent on two factors. Firstly, the widespread and continued accep­tance of the principle and rigorous self-regulation within the sector, and secondly on gaining suitable levels of public subsidy to the visual arts. In view of this, three new financing options are briefly considered. An afterword asks whether the UK would benefit from thinking afresh about ways to suitably finance the arts — and thus artists’ contri­bu­tions — in a political climate which is reducing the size of the state and subsidy to the public sector. 

Three examples

  • Four years ago, artists’ organ­i­sation Visual Artists Ireland estab­lished a framework for payment to artists across Ireland. This is fully endorsed by both of Ireland’s arts councils, falling within their policies and expec­ta­tions for fair pay and equality. Dublin City Council was the first local authority to also adopt it. VAI’s regular surveys of the economic and artistic health of artists suggest that not all venues are currently meeting their financial oblig­a­tions in respect of artists’ remuneration. 
  • In 2009, the Swedish government and artists’ organ­i­sa­tions KRO/KIF forged an MU agreement which provides for payment to artists for display of work in the form of a kind of rent’, this payable in addition to other kinds of costs an exhibition eg transport, instal­lation and publi­cation. The agreement expects all work the artist under­takes at exhibi­tions before, during and after the show to be governed by a written contract and remunerated outside the framework of the exhibition fee. The MU was updated in 2014. A report by the Swedish Policy Analysis Agency (kultur­analys) identified that 60% of artists who exhibited in smaller state museums either failed to get paid or received less than the agreement stipu­lates. There is currently no provision for levying penalties when the galleries concerned don’t pay or underpay exhibiting artists.
  • A new draft exhibition fee framework and recom­mended rates was published by a‑n The Artists Infor­mation Company in January 2016. The guidance which contributes to the Paying Artists Campaign follows consul­ta­tions across the visual arts sector and desire to develop a solution that works for everyone”. The framework and rates are supported by Arts Council England, within policies for diversity and equality. Imple­men­tation will be phased in, allowing galleries time to build up suitable budgets, with the first assessment of impact due in 2017. For a useful summary of all material and evidence in forwarding the principle of fair exhibition payment for artists showing in publicly-funded galleries across the UK see How we got here.

The above examples illus­trate how bodies have formed their arguments on the broader grounds of supporting equality of oppor­tunity and the specific right to receive compen­sation (or rent) for public access to artwork. A different approach has been taken in Canada, where artists’ repre­sen­tative associ­ation CARFAC first estab­lished an Artists fees system in 1977. Through an amendment to the Copyright Act in 1988, artists are provided with the legal right to be paid fees (compen­sation) when their work is exhibited public. 


In 1979 the (then) Arts Council of Great Britain imple­mented Payment to Artists for Exhibition of Work and estab­lished a standard fee and stated: All revenue and project-funded organ­i­sa­tions will be obliged to include costs of their estimate of exhibiting fees in their appli­ca­tions. Grants may be condi­tional on exhibiting fees being paid.” ACGB devolved the scheme to English regional arts associ­a­tions in 1983 as a three-year trial. As the subse­quent review couldn’t arrive at a common agreement, each associ­ation (and each arts council) created a version that reflected their own perspective and expectations. 

Two factors led to the demise of this artists’ fees scheme, which was effec­tively defunct by 1999. Firstly, while galleries initially agreed to (and publicly stated) the level of fee paid to artists for solo and group exhibi­tions, there was resis­tance when the budget needed to cover this was devolved from funding bodies to the gallery’s own. Secondly, as funding agencies developed new policies their commitment to maintaining the principle of paying artists’ fees for public exhibi­tions was deprioritised. 

In summary, in this particular instance the defining factor in estab­lishing and maintaining exhibition payments to artists over a period of time can be directly attributed to the strong line adopted by the funding bodies. Their unequivocal requirement for equity’ in the treatment of artists by galleries and the associated deep under­standing of the symbiotic relationship between artists’ work and public access to it were highly influ­ential amongst the portfolio of galleries they supported, and ensured that fees budgets were maintained at suitable levels. However, any policy in which is so highly dependent on the commitment of the funding body is at risk because new policies can supersede it.

Condi­tions for sustaining artists’ fees in budgets

In my three examples, the respon­si­bility for compliance lies with profes­sionals in the sector as neither funding body nor government mete out penalties. The detail of the exhibition arrangement and payment of fees to the artist remains a matter for artist and gallery. The under­lying assumption is that both parties are fully aware of and endorse the terms of reference for artists’ remuner­ation, that they are both equally familiar with the processes of negoti­ation and that there is an inherent desire to achieve an outcome that works well for both parties – a win-win situation.

However, unless the artist is repre­sented in such negoti­a­tions by a dealer, agent or mentor these optimum condi­tions are unlikely to be achieved. It’s possible that the evidence as noted in the examples from Ireland and Sweden, where artists have received less than the stipu­lated fees reflects this inherent imbalance in status. Because galleries mount exhibi­tions and commission artists on an ongoing basis, the staff are always likely to be more experi­enced in the negoti­ation process than the artist. Furthermore, as staff must consider the terms of reference for any individual exhibition within their broader exhibition programme and budget, they are more likely to know what terms they require from the detail of the arrangement, including the level of fees and other remuner­a­tions that will fit within their overall budget. In short, the resulting arrangement is likely to be more favourable to the gallery and its budget than to the artist’s circum­stances and needs. 

If there is a desire for a more even handed situation that creates equanimity within the sector rather than enforcement, how could this be achieved across the UK? The following options provide a brief exploration.

Option 1 – Enshrine the model agreement and fees stipu­lation in law. 

Canada, where the oblig­ation to pay artists’ fees has been enshrined in the Copyright Art could offer a model for the UK to emulate. Agreement would need also to be forged about the basis for uplifting fees annually and which agencies are given respon­si­bility for researching, setting and promoting them.

An advantage is that a legally-binding term of reference is enforceable and maintains the key imper­a­tives of the strategy regardless of the personal views or prefer­ences of funders or other profes­sionals in the visual arts sector including artists themselves. Note also that this was proposed as a solution to maintaining exhibition fees as a right (EPR) in a report commis­sioned by ACGB in 1988 from the (then) artists’ associ­ation as part of the imple­men­tation of the (now defunct) Payment to Artists for Exhibition of Work.

Option 2 – Protect artists’ fees within a desig­nated collection agency

Artists’ fees budgets are inevitably in danger of being eroded in arts venues when there are strains on the overall budget when, for examples, trading under-performs, fundraising falls short and unforeseen costs occur in instal­lation and opera­tions. While the majority of items in venues’ budgets are fixed’ – eg salaries and incre­mental scales are subject to employment law and contractual agree­ments govern overheads and service charges, budgets for fees to artists for exhibition and expenses are currently flexible, making this open to erosion when balancing the budget’ is the imperative. 

One way to prevent this is for a desig­nated agency to enforce the payment by collecting up the artists’ fee budgets from publicly-funded venues and to subse­quently distribute these fees to the contracted exhibiting artists. This is a variation on a proposal made to funders in 1996 by the (then) National Artists Associ­ation who proposed the setting up of a centrally held EPR-fund, into which all galleries paid their annual allocation”.

An advantage would be prevention of erosion of the venues’ fees to artists’ budget during the year, thus minimising the under­payment to artists which was noted in two of the scheme examples. A desig­nated agency might also be well-placed to fundraise from various sources to provide additional grants and funding schemes for artists. The NAA had in 1996 proposed this base budget was matched by the National Lottery.

Option 3 – create a pay policy that covers all visual arts salaries and fees 

In 2006, Arts Council England’s Turning Point: the ten year strategy for the contem­porary visual arts in England confirmed that the contem­porary visual arts sector is not meeting good standards in terms of pay and conditions…and [has a] low-paid workforce”. 

While since that time unpaid intern­ships for entry level posts have been recast as paid positions, there is no overar­ching pay policy for the visual arts sector. Each visual arts organ­i­sation appears to operate their own salary structure and pay scales. If the levels of fees to artists continue to be considered in isolation to a gallery’s other human resource costs there is a danger that the adjust­ments to salaried posts that are automat­i­cally related to career progression and higher experience levels as gained are not paral­leled when the calcu­la­tions are made about fees to artists. 

The advantage of a pay policy that encom­passes salaries as well as freelance rates (whether paid to artists or other specialists) is that it treats all who contribute to the success of a publicly-funded arts organ­i­sation equally. Thus judge­ments on for example perfor­mance-based pay increases or improve­ments in terms and condi­tions for all concerned would fall under regular compliance and good gover­nance reviews. A pay policy could also contribute to bench­marking within the sector, providing both rationale and practical advice when arts organ­i­sa­tions are under review and new ventures are being developed.


A review of key liter­ature about working condi­tions across the creative indus­tries ranging from commercial indus­tries such as television to publishing and adver­tising shows that a culture of low pay and less-than-favourable working condi­tions is now the norm. In parallel, government funding to the arts in the UK as a whole has declined consid­erably and may decline further under a political admin­is­tration committed to reducing the size of the state in all aspects of public services. This climate permeates the discourse on improving the pay and condi­tions for artists when working in the publicly-funded visual arts. 

Sharing a small cake (of visual arts funding) more equitably so that exhibiting artists receive a fairer share will inevitably be at the expense of something else an arts organ­i­sation might need spend their income on. This raises the question of whether – in parallel with strategies to make things better for artists – the arts sector could put their collective energies and minds to identi­fying new ways that might signif­i­cantly enhance the levels of finance that are available to the arts.

Although refer­encing the USA’s situation, Michael Wilkerson has identified the diffi­culties for the arts when there are too many organ­i­sa­tions dividing up available (or dimin­ishing) funds, the inherent diffi­culties for many organ­i­sa­tions of achieving a reliable donor base and how political will can adversely affect artistic exper­iment and risk. He argues that the arts need more, and stable funding whilst the enter­tainment industry as a whole is healthy. His hypothesis is to put a levy on all enter­tainment sales (arts and cultural ticketing, digital music and blank media, etc), in order to create a funding system that costs the for-profit sector little but that generates signif­icant resources for the non-profit sector”. There is some resonance in this respect with other sugges­tions of imple­menting a culture tax’ in the UK

Further reference

European Artists Rights – provides summaries of current artists’ exhibition fees schemes in Europe and elsewhere and of advocacy initia­tives in Europe. 

Louise, D (2015), Contextual infor­mation on the fees guidance provided by a‑n (pay to view/​free to a‑n members) see www.a‑‑n-publishes-contextual-research-on-fees-guidance

Wilkerson, S, (2012) Using the Arts to Pay for the Arts: A Proposed New Public Funding Model, The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, 42, 103 – 115 

Banks, M, Hesmond­halgh, D (2009), Looking for work in creative indus­tries policy, Inter­na­tional Journal of Cultural Policy, 15:5, 415 – 430

Hesmond­halgh, D, Baker S (2009), A very compli­cated version of freedom: Condi­tions and experi­ences of creative labour in three cultural indus­tries, Poetics, 38(1), 4 – 20.